Invisible VIP creates turmoil

By Greg Ansley

You couldn't see him, but sure as taxes United States President Barack Obama arrived in Canberra late yesterday, touching down 10 minutes early in a city that American security rules.

We knew from past presidential visits what to expect, and the men in dark glasses and their ubiquitous black SUVs did not disappoint us.

For days local cops, counter-terrorism teams, as many as 200 US Secret Service agents, soldiers, airmen and assorted other arcane specialists have been scouring Obama's routes and stopping points.

Sniffer dogs have joined in as security units prised the lids off drains, peered under culverts and into pipes, and checked every possible vantage point. Air Force jets, helicopters and ground forces have been training under the eyes of presidential guards who, alone among the protectors of visiting leaders, are carrying loaded weapons into Parliament House.

The National Press Club has become a media centre for the White House press corps and a fleet of cargo planes ferried in limousines, SUVs, vans and specialist vehicles that can, among other tasks, sniff out nuclear, chemical and biological threats.

Yesterday morning it all came together: commuters anxiously read the Canberra Times and listened to local radio to learn how they could dodge road closures and detours that blocked access to entire parts of the city as Obama's cavalcade arrived.

Parliament was locked down for the duration, and will be again today for Obama's speech to MPs and Senators, although small clutches of protesters gathered behind barricades on the lawns in front of the main entrance promoting a variety of causes.

Homeless people were being moved away from Darwin's city centre in preparation for Obama's visit there today. The traditional land owners have been asked to encourage the homeless to leave places on Obama's programme. Local Aboriginal leader Ilana Eldridge told AAP the "gentle suggestion" has come from the Northern Territory Government.

In Canberra, the stars and stripes fluttered beside the Australian flag on a plethora of poles, and red, white and blue lights coloured road tunnels.

We couldn't see them, but we were reliably informed snipers were posted everywhere necessary, and RAAF F/A-18 Hornets patrolled above the clouds.

And then Barack's armoured Cadillac, nicknamed "The Beast", with its smoked windows and array of weaponry including grenade launchers, pulled up beside the President and Governor-General Quentin Price, dressed top-to-toe in canary yellow. A cavalcade of more than 20 vehicles bearing the invisible President whipped down empty roads to Parliament House, where finally Obama appeared in public - albeit from afar - for his official welcome and 21-gun salute.

- NZ Herald

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